“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

Franklin 12-Language Speaking Translator Review

by July 17, 2007
Franklin TGA-490 12-Language Translator

Franklin TGA-490 12-Language Translator

In the last year I have been doing business in China, and as I prepared for my second trip over I decided that it was time to try out Franklin's TGA-490 12-Language Speaking Global Translator. Priced at $229.95, this nifty little gadget not only speaks in 12 languages, but also includes several other handy travel tools and features such as an MP3 player, earbuds, metric and currency converter, local and world clocks.

After my first trip to China, I realized more than once that I was at the mercy of whoever I happened to be working with as a translator. Unlike Spanish, where I understand enough to be dangerous, Chinese is impossible - to me, at least. Whether it was a taxi or a business meeting, I had no idea what was being said. I was at the complete mercy of my translator. The idea of the pocket translator was great, but would it work in the real world?

Features & Design

The Speaking Translator is just a bit larger than a video iPod or a slim digital camera, measuring 4" x 3" x 3/4" and weighing less than 6 ounces. The top half of the device slides up to reveal a QWERTY keyboard, similar to several recent wireless phone designs. The screen is a 3" diagonal monochrome LCD display, and there is a backlight button on the keyboard that illuminates the display in a blue-green hue. The 7-line screen is easy to read in most lighting conditions.

The device has an internal speaker located on the bottom of the unit, and also has a USB port for charging and transferring MP3 files, a headphone jack, and a control wheel. There is a recessed on/off button and also a small microphone located on the top right hand corner of the face that can be used for voice recording.

On the face of the unit are several buttons, each clearly labeled with an icon representing their function. These buttons include up/down/left/right arrows and play/select for navigating several functions. There are also dedicated buttons that take you to the Games menu, MP3 player, translation entry screen, list of phrase categories, calculator and currency converter, clock and alarm, voice memo functions, setup menu, etc.

Included with the Translator is an AC adaptor (with a USB plug on the end), a USB cable, and a pair of standard earbuds. There is a small instruction booklet that covers basic operations. It suggests that the product needs an initial charge of 3 hours, either through the USB port of your computer or a wall outlet. The battery is rated for 6 hours of continuous MP3 play, or approximately 1 week of "normal translator use." In my tests, battery life was never an issue.

Field Testing

Using the translator is as easy as powering on, pressing the source language button and choosing from the 12 options, which include English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Next, you select your target language (from the same 12 options). For my testing, I chose English as the source language and Chinese as the target language. Pressing the translation entry button brings you a simple screen with a text entry box. You simply enter the word you want translated and hit the enter button. You are given a list of words and phrases that match the word you entered. For example, if I type in "dog," I am presented with the following options for translation: dog, frank (hot dog); frankfurter, dog food, Beware of the dog, guide dog, and May I bring a dog/cat on board. Once you select the word or phrase you want, you are then shown the English word, and under it the chinese word in both Chinese characters and written in English. Press the target translation button and the unit speaks the word in a pleasant female Chinese voice.

RashidaThere is also a section of phrases, with categories for medical, travel, business, dining, etc. Each category has dozens of phrases to choose from. It is fairly easy to click up and down through the list of phrases to find something that might be close to what you are looking for help with in a given situation.

What better way to test a translator than with a group of Chinese people in a car or van, driving through China? I was with a group driving from Hong Kong to Dongguan, which was going to be about a 3 hour drive. I took out the Franklin Speaking Translator and began to punch in words. My friend Rashida (from Hong Kong) was in the van, and she was up for putting the translator through it's paces. (Although there are 12 languages available in the translator, for the purposes of this review, I am only covering the Chinese section of the translator.)

I would imagine that you would get similar results with the other languages contained in the translator, but due to restraints in my Audioholics travel budget, I was unable to go to other countries for testing.

We started with some simple words like hello, dog, house, etc., and things worked pretty well. Soon we moved to more difficult words, in an obvious attempt to stump the Franklin, and found our first success with zucchini. Rashida laughed when the translator gave the Chinese word for pumpkin, which she pointed out, is NOT a zucchini. At that point, the van erupted into a spirited discussion on what constitutes a gourd, but I digress...

Overall, Rashida found (in her native Chinese opinion) that the unit provided good pronunciation of Chinese words, and that the spoken translations had been recorded by phrase rather than word, which is better.

We then switched the unit to translate from Chinese to English. We found that the results were very proper - for example, "shout" in Chinese is "husheng." But when we typed "husheng" into the unit, it converted it to "wansui husheng," which in English translates to "hooray" or "hurray."

One other interesting quirk we found in the translation was when translating the word "lunch" from English to Chinese. It showed the correct word, but pronounced it in a way that means dinner. For "dinner," it used the same word AND pronunciation that it did for lunch, which in this case was correct.

Needless to say, Chinese is a tricky language. The Franklin Translator uses Mandarin Chinese, which is the language used by the bulk of developed China. The characters it uses are traditional Chinese, used primarily in Hong Kong and Taiwan. As an interesting side note, Shanghai speaks Mandarin, Hong Kong speaks Cantonese. So someone from Hong Kong might not understand a person from Shanghai and vise versa, but both would typically be able to read the traditional Chinese characters.

urkelThe more we used the translator, the more Rashida would laugh. She told me that the pronunciation was "nerdy," sort of like a Chinese Urkel (her description, not mine.... go figure!). Overall though, she gave it a thumbs up and said it would certainly get you by if you were on your own, using this to communicate with local people in China.

As for the MP3 player, well, let's just say you shouldn't throw away your iPod. I moved a few songs over via USB cable from my MacBook Pro. (The Translator appears as a mounted disk on my desktop, and I just drug several MP3 files over to it.) For some reason, it placed duplicates of each song on the translator, which was strange. The thing that surprised me the most was how loud the built-in speaker would play a song! It is really loud, without distortion. But of course, it is mono and without any fidelity to speak of. I guess it is nice that you can have some songs loaded in to listen to if you are waiting in line at the art museum or something, but overall I think that your iPod or other dedicated MP3 player will serve you better for any serious musical entertainment while traveling.


The Franklin 12 Language Speaking Global Translator is a great little travel gadget. If you are planning a trip to visit a foreign country, or maybe just planning to go out for Mexican or Chinese dinner here in the States and want to impress your date by ordering in a native tongue, this is your device.

Although you can input contacts or add MP3 files, the value of this device is as a translator and converter. It is small and very portable, and the included earbuds allow you to listen to the speaking feature even when on a crowded bus or subway.

It was fun when riding around with my Chinese driver (who spoke VERY little English) to have the translator "ask" him questions or speak phrases. I tend to enjoy trying to communicate with him through his broken English, hand motions, etc., but having the pocket translator bail me out every now and then was nice. It probably depends on your personality. Some folks will prefer being taught a few key words or phrases and going it alone. But if you are the type who would stop and take the time to pull out a PDA type device, type in some things, then try to speak the language, this device is a dream, and comes with plenty of travel friendly features built right in.

Drool Factor
one drop

With This Gadget, You Will Be The Envy Of:
your buddies

Is It Easy To Use?
it helps to be a bit geeky



  • Publisher: Franklin Electronic Publishers
  • Platform: USB
  • Media Type: Pocket Model
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable
  • Size: 4.0" x 3.0" x 0.6"
  • Weight: 5.6 oz.
  • AC Adapter: Yes (Adapter included)
For More Information:
Franklin Electronic Publishers
One Franklin Plaza
Burlington, NJ, 08016-4907

About Gear Corner

Welcome to the Gear Corner, where we give you a quick but comprehensive look at consumer electronics from several different categories. All products in the Gear Corner have been individually evaluated through hands-on testing by our reviewers in order to give you a quick but detailed overview that we hope will help you in your purchasing decisions.


About the author:

Over the years J. has constantly found himself to be an "early-adopter," spending way too much money on "new" technologies such as Compact Disc, LaserDisc, and DVD. He is one of the few people who actually purchased (and still owns) a CORE programmable remote control (bonus points if you remember this product).

View full profile

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!